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CONFLICT OF LAWS AND CHOICE OF LAW
Erin Ann O’Hara and Larry E. Ribstein
George Mason University School of Law
© Copyright 1999 Erin Ann O’Hara and Larry E. Ribstein

Abstract

We discuss the law and economics of conflict of laws and choice of law,
focusing on the law in the US. We first consider choice of law when the parties
have not effectively chosen their governing law by contract. We address four
questions: (1) Why do courts ever apply anything other than the law of the
forum? (2) If a court sometimes applies foreign law, is a rule-based or more
modern standard-based approach to its choice preferable? (3) Why have so
many states abandoned rule-based approaches in favor of standard-based ones?
and (4) Is there any real practical difference between the First Restatement and
modern approaches? We then discuss costs and benefits of enforcing parties’
contractual choice of law provisions. We conclude that permitting parties to
choose the governing law that best fits their transactions and future private
disputes can enhance jurisdictional competition and help restore predictability
to the conflict of laws problem.
JEL classification: K33
Keywords: Conflict of Laws, Choice of Law, Private International Law

1. Introduction

When a legal dispute involves parties, property or events located in more than
one government jurisdiction, and the substantive laws of those jurisdictions
differ, whose substantive laws govern the rights and obligations of the parties?
As barriers to migration and trade between jurisdictions fall, choice of law
increasingly complicates transaction and litigation planning and provides new
opportunities for private ordering.
Until approximately forty years ago, all courts in the United States applied
the territorial rules embodied in the First Restatement of Conflicts when they
resolved inter-jurisdictional disputes. The rules, which address most litigation
subjects, are premised on a ‘vested rights’ theory. A party’s rights vest, if at all,
at a particular place and point in time. Only that state has the power to create
the rights relied on by the plaintiff (Beale, 1935; Brilmayer, 1995). Tort issues,
for example, are governed by the law of the ‘place of the wrong’, which is
defined for a variety of tortious activities. Contract validity, necessary forms,

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and substantial performance issues are treated according to the law of the place
of contracting, while details of performance are governed by the place of
performance. Property issues are resolved according to the law of the situs of
the property (Restatement (First) Conflict of Laws, 1934). Accordingly,
although an interstate dispute is litigated in a Massachusetts court, the court
might apply the substantive law of another state to resolve that dispute.
Several decades ago, however, conflicts scholars began increasingly to
criticize the territorial approach to choice of law. The First Restatement Rules
were condemned as arbitrary, because there is no a priori reason why states’
powers should stop at their borders as prescribed by vested rights theory
(Brilmayer, 1995). Indeed, conflicts scholars searched the case law for places
where the choice of law under the First Restatement led to intuitively
unsatisfying results (Cavers, 1933; Currie, 1958a, 1958b; Ehrenzweig, 1956).
Tort immunities as applied to common domiciliaries is one such place (Ely,
1981). Under the First Restatement, a husband’s ability to recover for an injury
caused by his wife’s negligence while they were on vacation in another state is
governed by the law of the place of the injury, even though the marital domicile
is the only state which really has an interest in compensating this husband or
preserving this family’s harmony. As another example, some have advocated
a place of sale rule for products liability cases to better enable manufacturers
to charge customers for the varying levels of care and liability they are subject
to in differing places. Because products can be moved anywhere, the First
Restatement’s place of injury rule ends up causing customers in states with
lesser tort protections to help pay for the increased tort protections of customers
in other states (Kozyris, 1987; McConnell, 1988; O’Hara and Ribstein, 1997;
Solomine, 1989).
Defenders of the First Restatement dismissed these occasional unsatisfying
results and instead focussed on the general benefits of rules. Rules promote
predictability, uniformity, ease of application, and judicial restraint, while
discouraging forum-shopping (Reese, 1972; Rosenberg, 1968). In reality,
however, a number of ‘escape devices’ sometimes enabled courts to avoid First
Restatement rules when they really wanted to. One method found in every
rule-based system is characterization (North and Fawcett, 1992): how the forum
court characterized a case, as one of tort or contract for example, determines
the choice of law. Where ambiguities arose, judges were free to choose a more
preferred governing law. In addition, a public policy exception in the First
Restatement permitted courts to avoid applying any foreign law that violated
the public policy of the forum. Critics argued that these and other escape
devices deprived the First Restatement rules of the very benefits they purported
to confer (Brilmayer, 1995). As discussed later in this section, however,
subsequent empirical studies cast some doubt on the strength of critics’ claims.
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In any event, critics argued that courts should replace the rule-based
approach with a more sensible basis for choosing governing law. As detailed
later in this section, some advocated maximizing the ability of states to give
effect to important policies, while others promoted the use of the better or more
‘progressive’ states’ laws. Still others proffered personal rights-based
approaches to choice of law. Most of the critics favored standard over
rule-based approaches. As a consequence of widespread First Restatement
criticism, a significant majority of US state courts have abandoned the
traditional approach in favor of one of several alternative approaches to choice
of law. As of 1989, only fourteen US states purported to follow the First
Restatement (Solomine, 1989), and each of the others has adopted one of at
least four alternative approaches. Consensus has clearly disappeared.
Part A will consider four questions regarding choice of law when the parties
have not effectively chosen their governing law by contract. First, why do
courts ever apply anything other than the law of the forum? Second, if a court
sometimes applies foreign law, is a rule-based or standard-based approach to
its choice preferable? Third, why have so many states abandoned rule-based
approaches in favor of standard-based ones? Finally, is there any real practical
difference between the First Restatement and modern approaches? After all, if
the standard-based choices do not differ systematically in practice from the
First Restatement, the academic debate seems irrelevant. Moving to contractual
choice of law, Part B discusses the costs and benefits of enforcing parties’
choice of law. Permitting parties to choose the governing law that best fits their
transactions and future private disputes can enhance jurisdictional competition
and help restore predictability to the conflicts of law problem.
As indicated in this Introduction, we focus on choice of law by US states.
The same basic economic principles apply, of course, to international choice of
law. Although a detailed examination is beyond the scope of this article, we
note some international comparisons and implications at relevant points of our
article. We also note at the outset that choice of law within the US may have
very different implications from choice of law in Europe given legal
harmonization under European Community directives and regulations.
Nor do we discuss arbitration. An arbitration clause in an agreement is a
type of forum selection. The choice of law governing the agreement may be as
significant as choice of law in other contexts. On the other hand, the arbitrator
may not be bound to apply any specific body of law, especially under the
European approach of ‘de-localised’ arbitration (Dicey, 1980, pp. 583-585).
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A. The Conflict of Laws Problem

2. Forum Law: The Costs and Benefits

Forum law has at least two efficiency advantages over applying foreign law.
First, it is easier to ascertain. Because the judges and lawyers who are licensed
to practice in the jurisdiction have previously made significant capital
investments learning the details of forum law, the costs of applying that law to
any given case are generally lower than the alternatives. Second, the precedent
created by applying forum law provides valuable information to primary actors
as well as courts and litigators regarding future legal treatment of the issues.
In contrast, an investment in foreign law is less valuable locally because foreign
precedent is less binding and therefore less important in guiding local conduct
or judicial decisions (Thiel, 1996).
An interesting question thus arises: why should a court ever apply the laws
of another state? One reason is to enhance predictability. If actors can rely on
the application of the law of a particular state, they can structure transactions
and other activities and avoid inappropriate or inefficient laws. This, in turn,
forces states to internalize the costs of inferior laws, thereby promoting
competition among jurisdictions for more efficient substantive rules (O’Hara
and Ribstein, 1997). Ex ante reliance on Delaware corporations law, for
example, is only attainable if New York courts commit themselves to applying
Delaware law to the internal affairs of a Delaware corporation. A lex fora
approach to choice of law therefore impedes pre-litigation predictability.
Conflicts scholars have, however, questioned the benefits of predictability by
doubting whether people respond to differing legal standards in such contexts
as accidents and child abuse (Sterk, 1994; Symposium, 1997). If governing
laws do not provide marginal deterrent value in these contexts, then ex ante
predictability is not sufficiently valuable to justify the increased costs of
applying foreign law. On the other hand, empirical evidence indicates that
governing tort standards do affect aggregate behavior (Bruce, 1984; Landes,
1982; Landes and Posner, 1987). In particular, repeat players, including
manufacturers and insurance companies, pay careful attention to differing laws.
Moreover, the actual uncertainty created when the plaintiff can forum-shop for
the applicable law is debatable. Actors can predict that disputes will likely be
governed by the most plaintiff-favoring law in the set of possible fora for
disputes. And, even if parties cannot be certain which forum will ultimately be
chosen, in the event of litigation they can proceed with probabilistic
expectations. Although the outcome of a plaintiff’s forum-shopping law may
not be very predictable ex ante in many circumstances, it is often not clearly
less predictable than anticipating what law a court will apply under default
choice of law standards which, as discussed below, can be vague and
open-ended.
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Another disadvantage to a forum law rule is that it encourages
forum-shopping which can produce inefficiencies. Differing substantive laws
create disparities across jurisdictions regarding plaintiffs’ expected gains from
litigation. Forum shopping is generally regarded as skewing the litigation
process toward plaintiffs and distributing litigation unevenly across
jurisdictions (Sterk, 1994). States with more plaintiff-favoring laws end up
being swamped with litigation, while lawyers in states with relatively more
defendant-protecting laws face a lower demand for their services.
A third reason for applying foreign law is to take advantage of foreign
jurisdictions’ comparative regulatory advantages (Posner, 1992; O’Hara and
Ribstein, 1997). Suppose, for example, that a South Carolina driver collides
with a Florida driver in New York City. Presumably New York adopts traffic
and tort laws to encourage an optimal level of care in New York. If a defendant
is sued in South Carolina and the court applies South Carolina traffic and tort
laws to the suit, then the effectiveness of New York’s laws are watered down,
given that drivers from all over the country traverse the streets of New York.
If everyone is subject to New York standards of liability, then New York can
better tinker with its own laws to encourage the standard of care it seeks.
Brilmayer (1995, p. 15) describes the tendency of courts across the world
to sometimes consider foreign law as ‘virtually universal’. In the US, only two
states, Kentucky and Michigan, explicitly embrace a lex fora approach
(Solomine, 1989). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that
application of forum law is unconstitutional if the forum has no substantial
interest or connection to the litigation (Home Insurance Co. v. Dick). This
result is supported by our conclusion that the benefits of predictability,
regulatory efforts and jurisdictional competition probably outweigh the costs of
applying forum law in many interstate contexts.

3. Rule vs. Standard-based Approaches

Assuming that a court should sometimes apply foreign law, should choice of
law decisions be based on rules or a standard? Rules provide predictability,
enhance planning and help ensure uniform treatment of similarly situated
litigants. In contrast, standards are often better at generating just results in
individual cases. Because the costs of overdeterrence and underdeterrence can
differ according to the context, rules may be preferable in some areas, while
standards may be preferable in others.
As mentioned earlier, the First Restatement rules seemed arbitrary in some
contexts. But will a standard-based approach improve choice of law overall?
And if a standard-based approach is preferable, what should the governing
standard be? States that have abandoned the First Restatement have usually
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adopted one of three alternative standards: (1) Leflar’s ‘better law’; (2) interest
analysis; or (3) the ‘most significant relationship’ test. Leflar (1966a, 1966b)
says that courts should give significant weight to the ‘better law’ when faced
with the choice, and the better law is generally the one that achieves the most
justice, which is courts’ primary obligation.
Interest analysts advocate that choice of law should advance state policies
behind their laws. Each state thinks its laws are ‘better’ in general.
Consequently, courts should determine which states have an interest in
applying their laws to this dispute, given the domiciles of the parties and the
location of property and events leading to litigation. As originally conceived,
states intend to protect or compensate only their own domiciliaries with their
laws, not foreign residents. And a state has a regulatory interest in conduct
occurring only within its borders. Brainard Currie, the originator of interest
analysis, argued that the forum always should apply its own law when it is
‘interested’ in the outcome of the dispute. If no state has an interest in the
outcome, the forum should still apply its own law because it is cheaper than
applying foreign law. Foreign law should be applied only when the foreign state
is interested and the forum state is disinterested (Currie, 1959). Baxter (1963),
offered an alternative ‘balance of state interests’ approach. Under this
approach, courts should use interest analysis to maximize the joint effectuation
of state policies. If two or more states are ‘interested’ in the outcome of a
dispute, a court should determine which state stands to lose most if its policies
are ignored, and then apply the law of that state. In other words, in the face of
a conflict, Baxter proposed that courts minimize social costs, as those costs are
perceived by the individual interested states.
The drafters of the Second Restatement took a third approach. They
concluded that courts should apply the law of the state with ‘the most
significant relationship’ to the parties, property and events involved in the
dispute. In making this determination, courts should consider a number of
factors, including ‘the needs of the interstate and international systems’; ‘the
relevant policies of the forum’; ‘the relevant policies of other interested states
and the relative interests of those states in the determination of the particular
issue’; ‘the protection of justified expectations’; ‘the basic policies underlying
the particular field of law’; ‘certainty, predictability and uniformity of result’;
and ‘ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied’
(Restatement (Second) Conflict of Laws, 1971). This test approach is similar
to the ‘most significant relationship’ test used in Europe, except that the latter
provides somewhat more guidance in selecting the applicable jurisdiction
(Scoles and Hay, pp. 45-47).
Each of the three standards used in American courts has significant
problems. Leflar’s approach allows judges significant leeway for application of
outcome-determinative choice of law rules. Moreover, judges’ varying
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preferences undermine predictability. The same can be said of the Second
Restatement test, which gives no indication of how much weight to give to each
of the numerous factors (Brilmayer, 1995).
Interest analysis is more complicated. The narrow range of state interests
recognized by Currie fails adequately to promote the purported goal of the
standard. A state’s substantive goals reach far beyond compensating its
plaintiffs or protecting its defendants. Often a state is attempting to achieve a
sensitive balance between competing interests. Viewing the state’s interests
behind its substantive laws ignores important choice of law concerns such as
protecting party expectations and interstate harmony and preventing forum
shopping (Brilmayer, 1980). On the other hand, while modern interest analysts
advocate considering the state’s true interests behind its laws (Kramer, 1990,
1991a, 1991b), this reduces any predictability the approach might otherwise
provide (Brilmayer, 1995) since many factors can motivate state decision
making. Moreover, the idea of state interests becomes problematic from a
public choice perspective (O’Hara and Ribstein, 1997). States are not
monolithic entities. Individual legislators vote for very different reasons, and
the state government officials, including judges, who influence the application
of the laws have their own concerns. Interest groups that lobby for laws are
often trying to achieve purposes very different from the ‘public policies’ stated
by the legislators themselves.
Baxter’s comparative impairment approach to interest analysis further
complicates the choice. Baxter advocates applying the law of the state with the
most to lose if its laws are ignored. However, this calculation is often
impossible. Suppose, for example, that two states have interests in applying
their laws to a contract dispute. Under State A’s laws, spendthrifts can void
their contracts. Under State B’s laws, spendthrifts contracts are enforceable
against the spendthrifts. C, a spendthrift from state A, borrows money from D,
a creditor from state B. C fails to repay the loan and D sues to enforce the loan
contract. Under interest analysis, state B has an ‘interest’ in compensating its
creditor, while State A has an interest in protecting its spendthrift. Which
state’s policy suffers greater impairment if its laws are ignored? If such
conflicts arise frequently, at least one of the states necessarily will end up
having difficulty protecting its residents.
The standard-based approaches have proved unsatisfying. A better solution
might be to retain the First Restatement rules with periodic modifications to
avoid frequent arbitrary results. Indeed, Posner (1992) has argued that the First
Restatement, for all its faults, had the virtue of enabling states to exercise their
comparative regulatory advantages. For example, by defining and then applying
the ‘place of the wrong’ to tort suits, states usually could apply their laws to
tortious conduct within their states, and could therefore ensure that actors took
optimal levels of care. The First Restatement situs rule for property enabled the
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state where the land was located to regulate its use. Title questions are also
resolved by the law of the place of property, a clear rule easing the tracking of
titles and therefore facilitating the transfer of property to its highest valued use.
Finally, contract validity issues are governed by the place of contracting, and
the detailed rules tended to protect those who contract within their own borders.
Those who reached across borders were on notice of being subject to the
differing protections outside their states. The rule minimized the costs of
gathering personal and legal information for those, such as consumers, who
transacted business locally. Details of performance were governed by the state
with the greatest regulatory concern, where those details were to be performed.
The choice between rules and standards also may be viewed from a
contractual perspective. Part B, below, discusses the enforcement of express
choice of law clauses. A related issue is the appropriate default rules to supply
in the absence of express contract in order to facilitate private bargaining.
Standards provide ‘tailored’ defaults that fit specific situations, while rules
provide ‘untailored’ defaults that apply across a range of cases (Ayres, 1993).
In general, untailored rules can reduce contracting costs by decreasing
uncertainty as to the rule applied in the absence of contracting. Tailored
defaults, by attempting to anticipate the parties’ actual preferences, can reduce
the need for costly customized contracting (Whincop and Keyes, 1998, pp.
525-526). But untailored choice-of-law rules, because they only choose legal
systems rather than specific rules, may actually do a good job of anticipating
the parties’ preferences in the usual case, as distinguished from the odd cases
courts actually decide (Whincop and Keyes, 1998, Ch. 3).
Any choice of law approach should take into account concerns for
harmonizing state interests, protecting party expectations, minimizing costs of
legal information, as well as allowing states to exercise their comparative
regulatory advantages. But a rule-based system under which the drafters take
these concerns into account to the extent feasible also could promote uniformity
and thereby minimize forum shopping. Compared to the standard-based
alternatives that have received court attention, the First Restatement likely
provides much greater predictability despite its escape devices, and would be
even better if these devices were narrowed.

4. Coordination Problems with Rule-Based Approaches

If the First Restatement approach to choice of law is so superior, why have most
states abandoned it? In other words, why have the states been unable in recent
decades to coordinate choice of law to achieve increased uniformity and
predictability? Unless the states collectively adopt or retain choice of law rules,
the primary benefits of those rules are lost. A few conflicts scholars have
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advocated a return to a rule-based approach that would yield net benefits across
states, perhaps with legislative encoding of a new Restatement to foster
cooperation (Rosenberg, 1981; Scoles and Hay, 1992). But individual rules do
not always benefit the state or judge that is supposed to follow them, and
interstate enforcement problems may have led to the breakdown of choice of
law rules. In other words, courts face an unresolved prisoner’s dilemma in the
choice of law context.
In general, as the late Judge Breitel once explained in an unpublished
speech (Sterk, 1994), judges first ask themselves who deserves to win. Then
they assess how much cost to jurisprudence is likely imposed if they manipulate
the system to get that outcome. If costs will be borne by future worthy litigants,
judges will apply rules with less preferred outcomes for the present litigants. In
other words, future litigants constrain judges in the present case to a general
application of rules, including procedural ones. Judges who are nevertheless
tempted to violate the precedents of other judges are constrained by reputational
sanctions imposed by colleagues and higher courts (O’Hara, 1993).
But choice of law is different. Issues arise in many factual contexts
involving people and events from different places, and sufficiently infrequently
that the specific issue seldom arises again. Because the precedential value of a
given choice of law decision is quite limited, costs to future litigants of reduced
predictability in that factual context are slight. And colleagues and higher
courts are much less likely to attempt to vigilantly protect choice of law
precedents than they are to protect precedents that shape forum substantive law.
Even if rules are generally preferred to standards, formulating a
comprehensive set that leaves all states better off than they are under choice of
law anarchy might prove difficult to formulate (Sterk, 1994). Perhaps more
importantly, judges are always tempted to defect from individual rules in favor
of local litigants (Hay, 1992), or to apply more easily ascertained local laws.
While other states may suffer as a consequence, they are unlikely to pressure
the deciding state to prevent these defections. The classic tit-for-tat enforcement
strategies (Axelrod, 1984) would be difficult to implement, especially because
monitoring of other states’ choice of law decisions is costly. Even with
monitoring, escape devices allow states in some contexts to defect while
feigning cooperation under the rules. When defections are difficult to detect,
enforcement becomes much more difficult, and bargains are likely to unravel
for at least a while (Friedman, 1971; Green and Porter, 1984). Moreover, it
might be years before an interstate dispute arises in the disadvantaged state
enabling retaliation against the state that originally defected. Larger
plaintiff-favoring states, which were the first to abandon the First Restatement,
have more opportunity to defect because they handle a larger volume of
interstate litigation.
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In a few areas where cooperation among the states really matters, interstate
compacts have been formed on a piecemeal basis. For example, state taxation
of corporations and child custody disputes are now treated with relatively
uniform choice of law provisions. Where cooperation is important but has
proven unsuccessful, Congress can step in and federalize the substantive law,
as it has done, for example, regarding both bankruptcy and products liability
for vaccine manufacturers. For better or worse, choice of law problems are
mooted once the federal government imposes uniform federal laws. Finally,
private parties can enhance predictability and uniformity to some extent with
choice of law provisions in their contracts (Kobayashi and Ribstein, 1998).
What is left may not be worth coordinating, at least on the grand scale of a new
Restatement.
Of course, some coordination persists in smaller rural states. The First
Restatement states are clustered together in the south, including Maryland,
Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina
and Georgia (Solomine, 1989). These states share a relatively distinct economy
and culture that may limit a majority of interactions to people and events in one
of the other First Restatement states, perhaps enhancing cooperation.
Alternatively, coordination in these states may have more to do with a shared
conservative legal culture. In any event, it is not surprising that the First
Restatement broke down across a majority of states as legal realism permeated
the law, beginning with the larger, plaintiff-favoring states. The benefits to
achieving preferred results in individual cases outweighed the costs to
individual judges’ preferences of ignoring the settled choice of law rules.

5. Do the Choice of Law Approaches Matter in Practice?

The academic debate over choice of law loses relevance if court decisions do
not vary significantly under the alternative regimes. Some commentators have
suggested that the approaches to choice of law followed within the US make no
difference in the end. (This does not, of course, apply to the different choice of
law approaches in the international setting.) Sterk (1994), for example, argues
that courts care about ensuring that deserving parties win their cases. In
contrast, the choice-of-law theorists concern themselves with a host of issues
that do not concern the courts. The courts therefore cannot be expected to take
any of the approaches seriously. In fact, Leflar (1977) points out his casual
impression that courts often make a choice of law determination, and then rely
on the choice of law theories that support the court’s conclusion.
Even assuming that each state is committed to a single choice of law
approach, systematic differences in chosen law between the modern approaches
might be difficult to detect, if the modern approaches leave judges effectively
unconstrained. One might predict, then, that results differ between First
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Restatement states and states adopting modern approaches, but not among
states that have adopted each of the modern approaches. Alternatively, if First
Restatement escape devices also leave judges unconstrained, then no differences
among states would be found based on choice of law approach. It has also been
suggested that the modern approaches are more pro-resident, pro-forum, and
pro-recovery in principle than the relatively neutral First Restatement
(Brilmayer, 1980) and that, because each of the modern approaches rests on
theoretically distinct grounds, some of the modern approaches display these
biases more than others (Borchers, 1992).
Three empirical papers have attempted to test for systematic differences
across states according to choice of law approaches for torts. Solomine (1989)
studied 227 cases retrieved from a Westlaw computer search of all published
US state supreme court and federal court of appeal cases that explicitly
reviewed choice of law determinations in torts. He compared those decisions
made according to the First Restatement with those decided according to one
of the modern theories. Solomine found that the modern theories resulted in
choices of law that were more likely to favor residents, recovery and forum law
than did the First Restatement.
It may seem surprising that Solomine would find differences across
jurisdictions, at least with regard to recovery-favoring rules. After all, Priest
and Klein (1984) demonstrated convincingly that disputes that are actually
litigated are biased toward those that are on the margin. Plaintiff win rates
should tend toward 50 percent. Even if they vary due to asymmetric
information or stakes, win rates should not vary systematically across courts.
But choice of law questions might be sufficiently inexpensive and preliminary
in the litigation process that results may vary at the margin across jurisdictions.
Borchers (1992) followed with a more extensive study, and ascertained
confidence intervals to test the significance of variations across choice of law
methodologies. Borchers classified each state by choice of law approach, and
then collected 800 published state and federal cases, including those reported
at both the trial and appellate level. In the First Restatement states, he retrieved
every case found on-line from 1960. In the modern approach states, he retrieved
all cases found subsequent to the shift in methodology. Borchers attempted to
ascertain the differences both between the First Restatement and modern states
as a group and among the specific methodologies applied in the modern states.
When the modern states taken together were compared with the First
Restatement states, Borchers’ results confirmed Solomine’s. The modern
approach states were significantly more pro-recovery, resident and forum
favoring in their choice of laws. However, Borchers found essentially no
statistically significant variations across the modern approaches. He found
significant variation only with respect to recovery-favoring rules. The Second
Restatement and Leflar states were statistically distinguishable from each other,
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with the Leflar states generating more recovery-favoring outcomes. Borchers’
results were seriously qualified, however, by the fact that neither the Second
Restatement nor the Leflar states produced choices statistically distinguishable
from interest analysis. Borchers concludes (p. 379), ‘Courts do not take the new
approaches seriously. Because all of the competitors to the First Restatement
start from different analytic premises, if courts were faithful to their tenets they
would inevitably generate different result patterns. Yet in practice the outcomes
are largely indistinguishable.’
Thiel (1996), a trained econometrician, criticized Borchers’ methodology
for lacking a regression analysis that could control for legal culture.
Pro-recovery and pro-plaintiff results can come partly from the modern choice
of law approach, but could also be affected by systematic differences in the
general legal culture of the First Restatement and modern approach states. At
the same time, the states that have adopted the same choice of law methodology
might have positively correlated legal cultures. To separate out these influences
on choice of law decisions, Thiel used Borchers’ state classifications, and
remeasured the differences, using variables that might control the estimates for
the influence of legal culture.
Thiel found that while the modern approach states clearly use forum law
more often than states using the First Restatement, there was little difference
at the margin between the two groups of states with respect to recovery-favoring
choice of law determinations. Thiel believes that the results indicate that
plaintiffs push lawsuits to where their prospects of prevailing on choice of law
rulings are about equal in all states. Thiel’s most interesting results are found
in comparing states according to modern methodology. Unlike Borchers,
Thiel’s regressions produced statistically significant variations across the
modern approaches with respect to forum and recovery-favoring choice of law.
As predicted by theoretical analyses of modern methodologies (Borchers, 1992),
the point estimates of the differences indicate that the Leflar states are relatively
strongest in their generosity to plaintiffs and preference for forum law. The
interest analysis states also show a strong bias toward choice of forum law, and
are relatively strongest in favoring local parties.
More empirical studies could help clarify the choice of law debate. In the
conflicts field, as least as much as any other, legal academics make bald
statements claiming that various approaches or rules will work in particular
ways or have specific effects on primary behavior. Those statements are
supported at best with slight anecdotal evidence. The field is ripe for
empiricists who can cut through the legal and academic thicket to view the
landscape.
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B. Contractual Choice of Law

We have so far discussed only the default choice of law rules that apply in the
absence of contract. Enforcing clauses in contracts that select the applicable law
has several possible benefits (Ribstein, 1993; Whincop and Keynes, 1998, Ch.
3).

6. Benefits of Enforcing Contractual Choice of Law

Eliminating Inconsistency
The parties may contract for choice of law in order to eliminate problems that
arise when inconsistent mandatory rules otherwise might be applied to different
aspects of or parties to the contract, such as shareholder voting rules and the
rights of franchisees.

Clarifying the Applicable Law
Contracting for choice of law enables the parties easily to determine what law
governs the transaction. Uncertainty about the applicable law that results from
the choice of law default rules discussed above prevents the parties from easily
determining the standard of conduct to which they should conform or how to
price contract rights and duties. Uncertainty at the time of litigation can
increase both the costs and frequency of litigation. In particular, the uncertainty
may increase the parties’ gains from litigating rather than settling (Priest and
Klein, 1984). This is not only privately more costly for the parties, but also
imposes costs on the judicial system that are borne by taxpayers generally.

Jurisdictional Competition
Enforcing contractual choice of law is particularly useful in fostering
jurisdictional competition for more efficient laws across states (Kobayashi and
Ribstein, 1998; Ribstein 1993). Competition works both by encouraging states
to develop new terms to attract new legal business, and by encouraging states
to retain legal business by efficiently revising their laws. Jurisdictional
competition was first observed with regard to corporations, where a clear choice
of law rule, the internal affairs rule in the US, compels application of the law
of the state of incorporation (see Section 8, below). This rule encourages
corporations to select the applicable law. Commentators have debated whether
this process is a ‘race to the bottom’ in which the states attract incorporation
business by exploiting principal-agent problems resulting from the separation
of ownership and control (Cary, 1974) or a ‘race to the top’ that is disciplined
by efficient capital markets (Winter, 1977). For empirical evidence favoring the
race to the top hypothesis, see Carney (1993), Romano (1985), Dodd and
644 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 9600

Leftwich (1980). For studies of the role of jurisdictional competition in the
transition from special chartering to general incorporation, see Shughart and
Tollison (1985) and Butler (1985).
As Tiebout recognized, the ability of people and firms to exit jurisdictions
whose policies they do not like motivates governments to reflect voters’
preferences (Tiebout, 1956; Frey and Eichenberger, 1995; Gerken, 1995;
Kerber and Vanberg, 1995). Thus, the demand side of jurisdictional
competition requires, among other things, that actors are mobile (Easterbrook,
1983; Tiebout, 1956; Fischel, 1987). For example, with regard to corporations,
foreign incorporation imposes registration costs, exposes firms to suits in
remote jurisdictions and makes unavailable intrastate financing that is exempt
from the federal securities laws. Close corporations ordinarily lack incentives
to incur these costs because they can get most of what they want by adapting the
default provisions of their resident-state’s law (Ayres, 1992a; but see Ribstein,
1995a). Large multistate firms, on the other hand, pay these costs anyway in all
but one state in which they transact business and have scale economies that can
absorb the costs.
The supply side of state competition requires that states have incentives to
compete for formation business (Daniels, 1991). The states provide their law
free of charge at taxpayer expense. If states cannot internalize the benefits from
efficient contract rules, they may have inadequate incentives to devote
legislative and judicial resources to developing and maintaining efficient
contract rules. The standard explanation of the state competition for corporate
law is based on the states’ incentives to earn franchise and related fees from
incorporating firms (Romano, 1985). They can also earn revenue if enforcing
choice-of-law attracts firms’ operations to the state. Either of these mechanisms
would, in effect, give the state property rights in application of its law.
In analyzing the supply side of state competition, it is necessary to
disaggregate the ‘state’ and determine what motivates politicians to compete.
Contracting parties’ ability to exit the state is a necessary but not sufficient
basis for efficient competition. It is also necessary that this exit be translated
into incentives for politicians. Whatever the benefits to states by participating
in interstate competition, it is not clear that taxpayers can motivate state
legislators to draft state-of-the-art legislation solely in order to maximize state
revenues, particularly given legislators’ costs of producing this legislation. No
individual taxpayers can capture enough benefits from legislative action to
justify expending resources on legislation. Also, legislators may not be able to
capture benefits from engaging in the competition because other jurisdictions
easily can free-ride on their efforts by copying successful legislation
(Rose-Ackerman, 1980). At the same time, legislators incur costs in competing
to provide state law. In particular, because legislators can earn contributions
and other support from affected parties by brokering changes in mandatory
rules, they do not have strong incentives to lead the movement toward more
9600 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 645

enabling rules. Third, legislators face an unfavorable balance of risks and
rewards. They take the risk that the legislation will fail to accomplish its
objectives or will alienate groups that otherwise would have supported them,
while their successes can be copied easily by other states. For discussions of
legislators’ weak incentives to innovate, see Rose-Ackerman (1980), Ayres
(1992b), Carney (1993), MacIntosh (1993), Ribstein and Kobayashi (1996).
State competition to supply law may, however, be driven by lawyers rather
than legislatures (Ribstein, 1994, 1995). Lawyers not only wield the
conventional power of a cohesive interest group but, in most states, draft
complex business statutes. Lawyers have an incentive to make their state a
standard for commercial contracts in order to attract more litigation business
to the state’s courts and increase the value of advice on and expertise in the
state’s law. However, as the price for assisting in the competition of state laws,
lawyers may reduce the demand for these rules by pressing for rules that favor
lawyers, such as by offering open-ended default rules that discourage settlement
and increase litigation (Macey and Miller, 1987; White, 1992; Priest and Klein,
1984). Accordingly, lawyers may have an interest in preventing the parties
from simplifying choice of law by contracting in advance to be governed by a
particular law. On the other hand, lawyers are constrained by jurisdictional
competition. In general, lawyers would support rules that reduce demand for
law up to the point that the reduction in demand exceeds their benefits from the
rules. Demand may be reduced by inefficient legal rules that cause parties to
move their legal business to other states, federal courts and arbitrators.
The extent to which states compete to supply non-corporate law depends
significantly on whether interest groups in those states can protect their benefits
from mandatory rules from erosion by state competition. Under standard
interest group theory, state legislation is determined by the relative strength of
the various groups that the legislation helps and hurts (Olson, 1965;
McCormick and Tollison, 1981; Tollison, 1988). To be sure, states can
successfully compete only by making their underlying legal rules generally
attractive to contracting parties. Thus, a state could not win a competition to
attract, say, franchise law business simply by adopting a pro-franchisee law.
However, the state might be able to help franchisees by imposing retroactive
burdens on existing franchise contracts. Groups helped by such laws might
oppose vigorous choice-of-law competition. States’ incentives to compete
therefore depend on how well organized are groups that favor mandatory rules,
the costs and benefits to competing groups of applying contract-friendly
enabling rules rather than protective mandatory rules, and lawyers’ benefits
from competing for law business. Thus, for example, Delaware may be in a
good position to compete to supply law in part because it has a highly organized
commercial bar but no well-organized competing groups.
646 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 9600

The quantity and quality of state competition ultimately depend on the legal
rules regarding contractual choice of law. Politicians may protect themselves
by, for example, restricting enforcement of contractual choice law. While the
courts may have considerable discretion to interpret the legislature’s statutes,
they can do little in the face of a statute that explicitly invalidates choice of law
clauses. Even if the statute does not invalidate exit by choice of law, judges may
have their own incentives to maximize the value of interest group deals by
protecting them from dilution by party choice of law. After all, judges clearly
have some incentive to respond to legislators’ interests to the extent that the
latter control judges’ salary and tenure. If so, judges can be expected to act to
increase the durability and value of legislators’ interest group deals by
enforcing them within the state (Anderson et al., 1989; Crain and Tollison,
1979; Landes and Posner, 1975).
Although legislators and judges may attempt to block contractual choice of
law, contracting parties to some extent have the last say. They may, among
other things, choose the fora in which disputes are decided and completely exit
jurisdictions that are hostile to contractual choice of law. These moves, in turn,
put pressure on courts and legislators to enforce contractual choice (Kobayashi
and Ribstein, 1998).

Jurisdictional Competition and Evolutionary Theories
Contractual choice of law may lead to a process of legal evolution. As to legal
evolution generally, see Benson (1995), Kerber and Vanberg (1995). Alchian
(1950) observed that a study of the ‘adaptive mechanism’ of the market may be
more fruitful than that of ‘individual motivation and foresight’. Under this
theory, individuals and firms who have an incentive to minimize their
transaction and information costs and an ability to choose legal regimes that
accomplish this goal will cause the law to move toward efficiency. For example,
corporate law evolved from the sale of corporate charters by state legislators to
largely enabling statutes and alternative forms of limited liability business
forms because of the pressure of jurisdictional competition (Butler, 1985;
Shughart and Tollison, 1985). There is also evidence of such evolution with
respect to the demand for statutory forms (Ribstein, 1995a) and the demand for
uniform statutory provisions (Kobayashi and Ribstein, 1996). This evolutionary
theory suggests that the conditions for efficiency may exist even if this outcome
could not be predicted ex ante based on a study of the incentives of legislators
or other key actors.
It may be indeterminate whether the mechanisms for efficient competition
are in place, and therefore impossible to determine ex ante whether competition
among unknown alternatives will produce more efficient results than applying
a centralized rule. Nevertheless, it may be more efficient to facilitate
jurisdictional competition by enforcing contractual choice of law in order to
9600 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 647

promote a process of discovering more efficient alternatives (Hayek, 1948;
Vihanto, 1992; Kobayashi, Parker and Ribstein, 1994; Gerken, 1995).
Contractual choice of law is also likely to be superior to other alternatives, such
as the adoption of uniform or national laws, precisely because differing state
laws foster experimentation (Ribstein and Kobayashi, 1996; Kobayashi and
Ribstein, 1996). Moreover, diverse environments may suggest differing optimal
rules, and choice of law enables parties to choose the rule that fits best with
their contracting situation (Posner and Scott, 1980; Easterbrook, 1983;
Baysinger and Butler, 1985; Romano, 1985).
On the other hand, enforcing contractual choice of law might not lead to
efficient competition if state legislators engage in ‘herd’ behavior’ by ignoring
their private information generated by other states’ experiences and simply
adopting prior laws. (For theoretical treatments of herd behavior, see Banerjee,
1992; Bikhchandani, Hirshleifer and Welch, 1992; Scharfstein and Stein,
1990.) However, evidence from the evolution of statutory forms for closely-held
firms indicates that legislators do not simply follow-the-leader but rather apply
new information in adopting legislation (Ribstein, 1995a).

7. Costs of Contractual Choice of Law

Notwithstanding the above arguments, there are also reasons why enforcing
contractual law may lead to inefficient results (Ribstein, 1993).

Evasion of Mandatory Rules
Enforcing contractual choice of law arguably can lead to externalization of
costs where it permits contracting parties to evade mandatory rules that are
intended to address specific bargaining problems that can lead to such
externalization. This may be the case, for example, where the parties are
attempting to escape prohibitions on contract terms such as fiduciary duty
waivers, usurious interest rates, termination-at-will or noncompetition
provisions.
The argument against enforcing the contractual choice-of-law in these
situations may seem to be precisely the same as that supporting the mandatory
rule itself. However, there are several reasons for permitting the parties to opt
out of locally mandatory rules by contractually choosing the applicable law or
forum. First, where several jurisdictions’ laws may apply, the parties’ choice
of law is not obviously less appropriate than any other basis of selecting the
applicable law.
Second, evasion of mandatory rules is constrained by the fact that avoidance
requires applying a state law rather than solely the voluntary act of contracting
parties. That the chosen state’s law applies to its own residents reduces state
legislators’ incentives to engage in this sort of conduct. Accordingly, this
648 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 9600

danger of enforcing contractual choice of law exists mainly where most victims
live outside the state.
Third, the enacting legislature may not have intended to preclude
contracting for the applicable law or forum. In particular, a mandatory rule may
not make sense to the extent that it precludes efficient bargains. The parties
arguably indicate that the mandatory rule is costly when applied to them by
their willingness to incur the costs of contracting for choice of law. Thus, courts
generally should enforce contractual choice of law or forum even to the extent
that it overrides a locally mandatory rule (Buckley and Ribstein, 1998;
Whincop and Keyes, 1998a, Ch. 4, 1998b).

Information Assymmetry and Protecting Contracting Parties
Enforcing contractual choice of law arguably may lead to externalization of
costs because the party responsible for the term is probably more well-informed
concerning the chosen law. Indeed, such information asymmetries may skew
interstate competition because states may tailor their rules to suit the more
informed party. However, information asymmetry is arguably not a problem
where the effect of the law selection clause is to choose a legal regime that
literally enforces the contract; in long-term contracts negotiated by
sophisticated and knowledgeable parties who have the ability and incentive to
read the contract carefully or hire an attorney to do so; or where firms are
subject to market incentives to disclose and to constraints on cheating
(Schwartz and Wilde, 1979). In any event, regulators could minimize
information costs by mandating disclosure of unusual and significant
law-selection terms in some circumstances.
Similarly, enforcing contractual choice of law is arguably inefficient where
the choice-of-law clause can be characterized as an ‘adhesion’ contract imposed
by one party on another. This argument also has been used to justify broad
regulation of corporate governance. However, this is not the case merely
because of the parties’ acceptance of a standard term, particularly where the
contract chooses the entire local law of a particular jurisdiction. A state’s entire
law as to a complex contract probably will not operate unfairly against one of
the parties on all or most of the many issues that could arise in the future.

8. Enforcement of Contractual Choice of Law

This section considers the extent to which choice of law provisions are enforced
in United States courts.
9600 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 649

Common Law
The common law, as summarized in Restatement (1971), § 187(1) provides for
enforcement of the parties’ contractual choice of law as to interpretation issues
the parties could have resolved by contract. Under Restatement § 187(2), the
contract is not enforced as to issues such as validity, where choice of law
matters most, if:

(a) the chosen state has no substantial relationship to the parties or the
transaction and there is no other reasonable basis for the parties’ choice, or
(b) application of the law of the chosen state would be contrary to a
fundamental policy of a state which has a materially greater interest than the
chosen state in the determination of the particular issue and which, under the
rule of §188, would be the state of the applicable law in the absence of an
effective choice of law by the parties.

Courts and commentators have not clearly articulated a rationale for these
limitations on enforcement of contractual choice of law (Ribstein, 1993). The
‘substantial relationship’ test in subsection (a) seems to have no function other
than to increase the parties’ cost of exit from mandatory rules and, therefore,
to reduce the likelihood of efficient interstate competition. For example, it is
not clear why any mutually agreed choice would not be prima facie
‘reasonable’. The test conceivably could be defended on the ground that it
addresses externalization of costs by states whose law is applied. But even if the
particular contract at issue does not relate to the contractually selected state, the
state might still be subject to market discipline where the applied law has
substantial application within the applying state. In other situations, such as
corporate law, the state is otherwise subject to market discipline in formulating
its law. With respect to the vague ‘fundamental policy’ exception in subsection
(b), the Restatement gives as examples ‘illegal’ contracts or rules ‘designed to
protect a person against the oppressive use of superior bargaining power’
(Restatement, 1971, p. 568). This appears to track potential concerns about
bargaining power and information asymmetries (see Section 7, above).
Alternatively, this ground for non-enforcement may just invite courts to
determine and effectuate the underlying goal of the interest groups that
promoted the law.
In general, courts applying the US Restatement (Second) rule have quite
generally enforced contractual choice of law (Ribstein, 1993). Thus, in practice,
the US rule is close to the rule favoring enforcement articulated in the leading
UK case of Vita Food Products Inc. v. Unus Shipping Co.. That case enforced
a provision applying English law though there was nothing to connect the
contract with England except the choice of law clause.
650 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 9600

Statutory Law
Several states, including California, Illinois, Delaware, New York and Texas,
have promulgated statutes that, to varying degrees, clarify the enforcement of
contractual choice of law clauses (Ribstein, 1994). These choice-of-law statutes
provide some evidence both of jurisdictional competition to supply law and of
the determinants of such competition. The laws do not generate obvious gains
for legislators. They do not generate franchise fee or other obvious income for
the state. Nor do they even appear to benefit firms and individuals residing or
doing business in the enacting states since such parties do not need the statute
to secure jurisdiction in or to justify contractual enforcement of the law of the
enacting states. However, the laws are understandable in light of the role of
lawyers in promoting jurisdictional competition (see Section 6). Lawyers’ role
also helps explain differences among the four statutes. The broadest statute is
in Delaware, where lawyers clearly dominate. In the larger commercial states
such as Texas, other powerful interest groups clearly would want to protect
local mandatory laws from erosion by interstate competition.

Corporate Internal Affairs Rule
In contrast to the rule applied to other contractual relationships, the parties’
rights regarding the internal governance of a corporation usually are
determined by the law selected by the parties - that is, the law of the state of
incorporation (Restatement, 1971, § 302(2). The conflicts rules that apply to
corporations therefore differ substantially from those which apply to
non-corporate contracts. This ignores the fact that corporations and other types
of firms are fundamentally similar in the sense of being alternative devices for
minimizing transaction costs (Williamson, 1985; Coase, 1937). Nor do the
costs and benefits of applying contractual choice of law discussed above differ
significantly according to whether corporate or non-corporate contracts are
involved (Ribstein, 1993). For example, parties to non-corporate contracts, like
those to corporations, would benefit from being permitted to shop for the
applicable law, from the certainty of applying a contractually selected law, and
from applying the same law to all parties to interstate contracts. On the other
side of the ledger, corporations present the same potential problems as other
contracts regarding potential evasion of mandatory rules, as indicated by
commentators such as Cary (1974) who have condemned interstate competition
for corporate law as a ‘race to the bottom’. Although corporations do clearly
identify the applicable law through their centrally filed certificates or articles
of incorporation, this does no more than justify analogous requirements for
non-corporate contracts. The fact that corporate shares are traded on efficient
securities markets that discount significant contract terms plainly does not
justify a distinction between closely held corporations and other types of
contracts.
9600 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 651

The different treatment of corporations and other types of contracts with
regard to enforcement of contractual choice of law may be due at least partly
to the long acceptance of the legal fiction that a corporation is a legal ‘person’
created and endowed with certain attributes by the chartering state (Ribstein,
1995b). This characterization is conducive to application of contractual choice
of law because it seems to give greater weight to the parties’ jurisdictional
choice than would characterizing the corporation as a mere contract. The entity
theory helped create a legal momentum toward enforcement of contractual
choice of law in corporations that has never been opposed by coordinated
interest groups. In other words, the special choice-of-law rule for corporations,
which has been instrumental in ensuring efficient state default rules and
enforcement of contracts in firms, ironically may be attributable to the fact that
the corporation traditionally has been viewed as a legal person rather than an
ordinary contract.
There is a potential tension between the corporate internal affairs rule and
the choice of law statutes discussed above. Those statutes arguably permit the
parties to a corporation to select the law other than of the state of incorporation.
This raises the question of whether states should be able to, in effect, bundle
their lawmaking and adjudication services by insisting that their corporate law
applies only to parties who have formally incorporated in the state and,
therefore, paid the franchise tax (Ribstein, 1994). Fees and taxes arguably play
a role in giving states an incentive to compete to provide law, depending on the
role of lawyers in promoting in this competition (see Section 6, above).

Constitutional law
The federal government in a federal system has an important role with respect
to contractual choice of law. For broad-based discussions of the economics of
federalism, see Hayek (1948), Riker (1964), Shapiro (1972), Rose Ackerman
(1980, 1981), Cover (1981), Kitch (1981), Macey (1990) and Carney (1993).
This section discusses Constitutional provisions that mandate enforcement of
choice of law contracts. Other potential effects of federal law are discussed
below.
The commerce clause of the US Constitution, §8, cl.3, provides in part that
Congress has the power ‘[t]o regulate Commerce ... among the several states’.
The ‘negative implication’ of this clause is that only Congress, and not the
individual states, can regulate such commerce (see Cooley v. Board of
Wardens). The Supreme Court has endorsed an exportation-of-costs theory of
the commerce clause which holds that if the costs of state regulation fall mostly
on interest groups outside the state while the benefits accrue to those within it,
the legislature lacks incentives to consider both costs and benefits in enacting
laws (Posner, 1992, pp. 638-644; Fischel, 1987; Levmore, 1983). From an
efficiency standpoint, cost exportation subverts interest group interaction within
652 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 9600

the enacting jurisdiction that otherwise would cause laws to tend toward
Kaldor-Hicks efficiency.
The cost-exportation theory arguably justifies invalidation under the
commerce clause of state statutes to the extent that they prevent enforcement
of choice-of-law clauses. This targets a particular application of state law that
generally tends to benefit concentrated in-state groups while imposing costs on
out-of-state firms or interest groups (Ribstein, 1993). It is significant in that
regard that such clauses tend not to be enforced when they are in form contracts
that are used on a national scale rather than within a single state (Ribstein,
1993).
This theory is arguably supported by two Supreme Court cases on state
anti-takeover laws, Edgar v. Mite Corp. and CTS Corp. v. Dynamics Corp. of
America. Edgar struck down on Commerce Clause grounds a state law which
imposed conditions, including approval by a state agency, on interstate tender
offers, while CTS held under the commerce clause that an interstate tender offer
could be regulated by the law of the state of incorporation. These cases are best
rationalized on the basis that regulation of a corporate contract which is
inconsistent with the law of the contractually selected state - that is, the law of
the state of incorporation - is invalid under the commerce clause.
Even if the commerce clause technically applies in this situation, its
application may be unnecessary in the long run. Costs ultimately may be borne
inside the state even if they initially fall on nonresidents (Kitch, 1981), and
laws hurt out-of-state groups invite retaliation by other states (Levmore, 1983).
The full faith and credit clause, US Constitution art. IV, §1, provides in part
that ‘Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts,
Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State’. This requires states to
respect the laws of other states at least to the extent of having a principled basis
for refusing to the follow the law in a particular case (see Allstate Insurance Co
v. Hague). However, this principle does not directly protect individuals’ rights
to freedom of contract.
Some early ‘full faith and credit’ cases involving fraternal benefit
associations held that the association’s formation state law or charter must
apply in order to ensure that a single legal regime applies to all association
members (see, for example, Supreme Council of the Royal Arcanum v. Green,
enforcing increase in assessment rate pursuant to association’s constitution).
However, given the limited objectives of the full faith and credit clause
discussed above, it is unlikely that this authority would be broadly applied today
to compel enforcement of choice of law clauses. At most, these cases might
justify applying a single rule, such as the law of the one state that has
overwhelming contacts with the transaction even if this is not the law the
parties selected.
9600 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 653

Federal Law
Congress is explicitly empowered under the full faith and credit and commerce
clauses to regulate choice of law. A federal choice of law rule could preserve
state power and reinforce private contracts similar to commerce clause
protection of contractual choice of law. However, any Congressional action
would have to emerge from a competition among interest groups. There is
probably no group that would gain enough from a general rule validating
choice-of-law clauses to organize support for such a law. Congress may fail to
act only to avoid negative interest group pressure (Macey, 1990) rather than
because action would be inefficient. This suggests that it may be better to rely
on the Supreme Court’s power under the Constitution to lift state burdens on
interstate commerce.

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Cases
Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 53 U.S. 299 (1851)
Supreme Council of the Royal Arcanum v. Green, 237 U.S. 531 (1915)
Home Insurance Co. v. Dick, 281 U.S. 397 (1930)
Vita Food Products Inc. v. Unus Shipping Co. A.C. 277 (1939)
Allstate Insurance Co v. Hague, 449 U.S. 302 (1981)
Edgar v. Mite Corp., 457 U.S. 624 (1982)
660 Conflict of Laws and Choice of Law 9600

CTS Corp. v. Dynamics Corp. of America, 481 U.S. 69 (1987).